It's Time To Plan Your Summer May 04 2013

The Met Office says Britain is odds-on for a great summer, so get your diary out ... from walking to whale-watching and from opera to hip-hop, here is Gatsby Lifestyle’s month-by-month pick of events, activities and festivals to satisfy every appetite, with insider tips on getting the most out of each of them.


Isle of Wight Walking Festival, 9th-24th May

The UK's biggest walking festival has a programme of more than 300 walks, including dawn chorus rambles at 5am, dinosaur walks that will fascinate the kids, or a four-day walk of 72 miles, which circumnavigates the island. There are also foodie tours, ghost walks and trails round the island's most beautiful gardens.
Top tip 
"It sounds unlikely, but the speed dating walk on the 9th has a great success rate," says Kerry Jackson of Wightlink, which sponsors the event. "There have been three weddings between couples who met on previous years' walks."
• Most walks are free. More info: 01983 823070

Derbyshire Food and Drink Fair, 18th-19th May

The 10-day Derbyshire Food and Drink Festival kicks off with a two-day fair in the grounds of Elvaston Castle, when more than 100 local producers come together to sell meat, cheeses, cakes and organic fruit and vegetables. Celebrity chef Brian Turner will be on hand with recipes and demonstrations, along with local Derbyshire chefs. Around 20 local artists and craftspeople will be exhibiting their work in the castle grounds. The festival then continues to 25 May, with restaurants and pubs throughout the county taking part and offering special menus.
Top tip 
"Michelin-starred chef Max Fischer is one to watch," says Joyce Sanders of Derbyshire County Council. "Catch his demonstration at 2pm on the 16th."
• Admission £2.50. 

Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival, 21st-31th May

Located in the stunning surroundings of the Brecon Beacons National Park, the Hay Festival brings together writers, comedians and musicians in a programme of talks, readings and discussions. Highlights this year include: the Greenprint Forum, with discussions and debates on ecological issues; stories from the music scene with Island Records mogul Chris Blackwell and legendary keyboard player Rick Wakeman; Sarah Waters launching her new novel; and Jeremy Paxman giving a talk about his book, The Victorians.
Top tip 
Festival director Peter Florence recommends a reading by novelist M J Hyland, in the Oxfam Studio on Sunday 29 May. "It's an exclusive preview of her new book, This Is How, the summer's most brilliant read."
• Book on 0870 990 1299

Bath International Music Festival, 22nd May-6th June

A diverse mix of music plus Bath's glorious architecture make for an unbeatable combination; jazz fans should check out Maceo Parker (23rd) and the Branford Marsalis Quartet (25th) while classical pianist Joanna MacGregor is a must-see (3 June). There are concerts for children, folk music and lunchtime events, many of which are free.

Top tip 
"Treat yourself to the world's best hot chocolate at House of Minerva [14 Cheap Street]," says Julie Peacock of the Bath Festival, "then head to the Abbey for Voices of Africa, with South African Mezzo Sibongile Khumalo, sax sensation Jason Yarde, plus the Festival's own artistic director, Joanna MacGregor."
• Ticket prices vary. Book on 01225 463362;

Reach for the Sky, Lake District, 22nd-30th May

The stunning Lake District countryside forms the backdrop to a series of spectacular free
performances by acrobats, high-wire artists and circus acts. In Carlisle a performance by French group Transe Express, will finish with a troupe of drummers being hoisted into the sky to create a giant human mobile. In Penrith, a team of 100 "human castle builders" from Catalonia will create a human tower, and in Barrow the top performer will be French circus group Quidams, which features inflatable characters four metres high.
Top tip
"It's only just been arranged, but the Spanish castle builders who are performing in Penrith will be doing previews at Bowness and Carlisle on the previous two evenings," says Julie Tait, director of Lakes Alive. "If you can't get to Penrith it's a great chance to see them perform."
• All events free. More info: 01539 720252;

Southend Festival of the Air, 24th-25th May

One of the largest free air shows in Europe sees the skies above Southend pulsate with combat displays, jets roaring towards the horizon, aerobatics, parachute jumps and all manner of white-knuckle boys-own heroics. On the ground, rides, giant inflatables and simulators will keep the children happy, as will the chance to meet and talk to the pilots.

Top tip
 "The absolute best spot to see the action is the end of the pier," says Lisa Ferne of Southend Council. "But get there early because you can't walk down it: you have to take the train."
• Admission is free. More info: 01702 390333


Forestry Commission Concerts, 4th June-18th July

This summer's concerts hosted by the Forestry Commission bring live music to some of Britain's most beautiful spots. There is a diverse mix of artists; the Human League play Thetford Forest, Suffolk, on 9 July, while classical violinist Vanessa Mae plays Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire, on 18 July. Other artists include opera singer Katherine Jenkins, McFly and James Morrison who kicks off the season at Thetford Forest on 4 June.
Top tip 
"At all our sites we have special taxi routes, so that cabs can get in and out of the events without getting tangled up with all the other cars," says Paddy Harrop of the Forestry Commission. "However, we do advise people to pre-book."
• Tickets from £25. Book on 01842 814612;

Longborough Opera Festival, 10th June-22nd July

The Cotswolds' answer to Glyndebourne, Longborough benefits from its lower profile and has a diverse programme, including a performance of La Bohème by the Young Artists programme - all newly professional singers (the chance to see a future Pavarotti in action, perhaps?). It has all the usual trimmings - black tie, 90-minute break for picnics on the lawn - but with refreshingly familiar operas, including Carmen and Figaro.

Top tip 
Next year, Alwyn Mellor will be the festival's Brunnhilde in Wagner's Die Walkure - a major role. Catch a sneak preview of her talent this year, when she performs in the German Romantic concert.
• Tickets from £25. Book on 01451 830292

Henry VIII Coronation Weekend, Hampton Court, 20-21 June

A spectacular river pageant is set to mark the 500th anniversary of the coronation of Henry VIII with a flotilla of boats travelling up the River Thames from the Tower of London to Hampton Court. Festivities will take place at Hampton, including a vast banquet on the Saturday, games, dancing and medieval festivities throughout the Sunday until the King and Queen make the return journey up river to the Tower.

Top tip
"If you get to the palace before the Royal Flotilla, head to the kitchens to watch live Tudor cooking demonstrations, as a team of chefs prepare a banquet for the visiting monarch and his entourage.
• Adults £14, kids £7.

Isle of Wight Festival, 12th-14th June

The first of the big summer music festivals, the Isle of Wight has managed to avoid going totally to the Corporate Dark Side and still has a relatively grungy feel, along with a top line-up of bands (and tickets still available). This year's headliners are Razorlight, the Stereophonics and Neil Young, while the Big Top stage hosts a girl's night out with Bananarama, Alesha Dixon and Beverley Knight among others. Kids are well catered for in a special zone that includes an art and craft marquee and one dedicated to dressing-up and face painting.
Top tip 
Leave the car on the mainland: there are shuttles operating to all the ferry ports until midday on Monday, and Newport is an easy half-hour walk from the site.
• Camping tickets cost £140. Book on 08705 321321

Whale watching, Scottish Highlands, late June onwards

The waters around the Hebrides are home to a variety of whales in the summer months; more than 250 minke and pilot whales were spotted last year, along with rarer sightings of killer, fin and even humpback whales. Tours depart daily at 9am in the summer months, heading into open water for a two- or three-hour cruise. Alongside the whales, there's a good chance of seeing dolphins, porpoises and sharks, with white-tailed eagles and puffins in the skies above the boat.
Top tip 
"Don't assume that a bright, sunny day is the best weather for whale watching," says senior skipper Nick Davies. "It is much easier to spot them on a cloudy, calm day."
• Two-hour trips from £32.50. 0800 008 6833


Goodwood Festival of Speed, 3-5 July

It's the most glamorous date in a petrolhead's calendar: vintage cars, Formula 1 racers, Lewis Hamilton in action, all set in the beautiful grounds of Goodwood House in the Sussex countryside. New high-spec cars make their debut in the paddocks alongside classic Aston Martins and there is a mind-boggling mix of famous faces taking part in the races, from Rowan Atkinson to Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Carl Fogarty.
Top tip 
"A lot of people miss the Forest Rally Stage," says Janet Bradley of Goodwood Road Racing. "It's a 2.5km loose-surface rally stage which always has fantastic action. If visitors don't wish to walk up the hillside, there is a tractor and trailer to take them up ."
• Tickets from £33. Book on 01243 755055

Hampton Court Flower Show, Surrey, 7th-12th July

Chelsea may have the higher profile, but the Hampton Court Show is less of a social gathering and more of a real gardeners' event. This year there will be six different gardens themed around each of Henry VIII's wives, in celebration of the 500-year anniversary of his coronation. There will also be a marquee dedicated to roses and another to plant heritage, and a Growing Tastes area offering advice and demonstrations on growing fruit and veg. The 11th and 12th is a family weekend, with lots of extra activities for kids.
Top tip
"Stop by Jekka's Herb Farm for some of the best organic herbs," says Mandy Almond, RHS show manager. "She has a wealth of knowledge about medicinal benefits, from hangover cures to herbs that can help indigestion and common colds."
• Tickets from £17 (reductions for RHS members). Book on 0844 209 1810

Whistable Oyster Festival, Kent, 18th-26th July

Oysters have been big business in Whitstable since the 19th century, and the festival begins with a re-enactment of the first landing of the season, with the catch blessed on the beach by a priest before a procession through the town. Costumed Victorian day-trippers will also be on the beach, while the town hosts an oyster-eating competition later in the week. Local restaurants have special oyster-themed menus, while the Epicentre is a market for local producers, with stalls along the harbourfront.

Top tip 
Ignore the swanky eateries at the harbour and head to Wheelers (8 High Street) - the oldest oyster bar in town. It's refreshingly unpretentious, with lipsmackingly good fish.
• Events are free. 

The Gathering, Edinburgh, 25th-26th July

This is the highlight of Scotland's "Homecoming Year" - a series of events aimed at attracting people of Scottish ancestry to visit, and marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of poet Robert Burns. There will be several stages at Holyrood Park, and a vast Highland Games will take place on the Saturday and Sunday, alongside country dancing workshops, bagpipe competitions and storytelling tents. On Saturday night, clan members will parade up the historic Royal Mile, and a Clan Pageant will tell the history of the clans, with spectacular lighting and special effects.
Top tip 
"Don't miss the three whisky master classes in the Talisker Taste Experience," says Lord Sempill, director of the Gathering. "Whisky experts will lead you through the different flavours of classic malts, with the opportunity to taste rare special releases."
• Tickets from £88. Book on 0131 561 1323 


Cowes Week, Isle of Wight, 1st-8th August

The largest sailing regatta in the world brings together amateur sailors and Olympic world champions, with 40 different classes of boat racing over the eight days. More than 8,000 sailors race each day, while on dry land Cowes Parade has street entertainment and live music, a champagne and oyster bar and a spectator boat service. There are free introductory sailing lessons on offer, and in Shepherds Wharf Marina (where most of the crews go to party) there are themed nights, live bands and the Infernos Crew Nightclub every night till 2am.

Top tip
"Bring a small portable radio so you can stay tuned into the action on Cowes Radio (87.7FM)," says Michelle Warner of Cowes Week. "And grab a viewing space between the Castle of the Royal Yacht Squadron and the cannons - it's the best spot, as long as you don't mind the bangs."
• More info: 01983 295744

Carnival del Pueblo, London, 2nd August

While half of London is preparing for the Notting Hill carnival, the Latino community is gearing up for its own street party - the biggest Latin American carnival in Europe and a far more manageable event than its Caribbean counterpart. The all-day festival in Burgess Park combines Brazilian, Andean and hip-hop areas, while the procession includes floats from 11 countries. There are samba and Latin dance workshops to join and a children's zone.

Top tip
Don't miss the finale of the Open Salsa Dance Competition (open to all comers). After the judged heats, the last contenders compete on the main stage to win the public vote.
• Admission is free.

The Big Cheese, Caerphilly, 24th-26th August

A perfect snapshot of British country life at its most quirky, the Big Cheese offers such delights as a Tommy Cooper tent, living history encampments where children can talk to the actors and find out about life in medieval times, fire-eaters and fireworks and the Big Cheese Race (a fancy-dress relay around the castle), which kicks off proceedings on the Friday evening. There are two music stages, featuring live performances throughout the weekend, and Caerphilly's dramatic castle will also host musical performances in its Great Hall.
Top tip 
Don't miss the Siege Engine Firings, on the hour from 1pm to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday. Boys (and their dads) are bound to be fascinated by the 15th-century equivalent of smart bombs and missiles, recreated from original medieval drawings.
• Admission is free. More info: 029 2088 0011